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Cycle Campaign Groups have a Mountain to climb


Earlier his week I perused some UK Cycling statistics detailed in a report on Cycling UK’s website. It is sobering reading for cycle campaigners but fear not: climbing a mountain starts with a single step!


Let me briefly summarise the Cycling UK report:

  1. Only about 1% of all journeys is taken by bike.

  2. 80% of the UK population never cycle. Northern Ireland does slightly better: 67% never ride a bike.

  3. In Northern Ireland only 1 in 3 respondents has access to a bicycle. This is significantly lower than in the rest of the UK.

  4. Compared to the rest of the UK, women in NI are much keener cyclists.

  5. Pensioners cycle less than those in their thirties and forties (no surprise there, but worrying in terms of fitness as our population ages).

  6. The proportion of children cycling to school is vanishingly low (about 1%)…

  7. …as is the proportion of people who cycle to work (about 3% across the four nations).

  8. We note that the proportion of NI cyclists happy with their local cycling infrastructure has dropped from 53% in 2021 to 46% in 2022.

What does that mean for cycle campaign groups?


First, we have to deal with the demographics. Points 2 and 6 above are closely related inasmuch as transport habits are formed at an early age. If today’s youth does not embrace cycling as a mode of transport equal to the car, it will be very difficult to hit our ambitious net-zero targets. More bikes on the school and commuter runs reduce CO2 emissions and traffic congestion. To be blunt, point 1 above is a national scandal. Let's start to fix this by organising more school run bike buses.


Second, cycling keeps the population fit, reducing the drain on NHS resources. We need to engage with both young and old cohorts and get them on their bikes.


Third, the data for Northern Ireland suggest that more people fall into the “I would like to cycle but I am afraid to do so” category than the “strong and fearless” and the “enthused and confident” categories combined (17% vs 4%+12%). We need to engage with hesitant cyclists (particular the over-65s) and show them how they can ride safely and confidently. To achieve that, we need support from DfI and local councils in the form of better cycling infrastructure.


We also have to educate drivers that cyclists are not second-class citizens and must be respected on the road. The 2022 changes to the Highway Code need to be implemented by the Department for Infrastructure as a matter of urgency.


For those interested in further details, below follows a condensed version of the survey, focusing on the statistics for Northern Ireland. The survey results have to be evaluated carefully: the 2020 & 2021 figures are mostly cited separately because they are not comparable with figures from previous years as the pandemic affected both data collection and travel habits.


The Department for Infrastructure’s website does contain some data on walking and cycling, although more granularity (particularly on accident statistics) would be welcome.


How does cycling compare to other forms of transport and is this trend increasing?

Cycling: proportion of all mileage

<1.5% (please see full report for more on this estimate).

Trends in cycle mileage

Generally upwards since 1999-2001. Please see full report for more detail.

Cycling: proportion of trips

  • 0.8% (2017-19)

  • 2020 no figures available

  • 1.2% (2021)


What proportion of the population cycles and how often?

Cycled every day

  • 3% (2017-19)

  • 3% (2020)

Cycled not every day, but at least once a week

  • 7% (2017-19)

  • 10% (2020)

Cycled less often, but more than once or twice a year

  • 10% (2017-19)

  • 9% (2020)

Note: this covers cycling for leisure or for a purpose (e.g. commuting)


What proportion of the population never cycles?

Northern Ireland: little cycling (less than once or twice) in the past 12 months: c.80%

The trend is not good: in 2016/17 that proportion was 70%. In other words, cycling is becoming less popular as a transport mode.


How many trips do people make and how far do they go each time?

Important: travel habits and data collection were both affected by the pandemic in 2020 & 2021, so be cautious about comparing the results with earlier time periods.

Note: 'All kinds of transport' include walking, cycling, driving or being driven, motorcycling, taxis, bus and rail.

All age groups

Number of trips per year

Cycle:

  • 7 (2017-19)

  • 16 (2020)

  • 10 (2021) - on average people ride a bike less than once a month.

Car (as a driver):

  • 453 (2017-19)

  • 406 (2020)

  • 412 (2021) - people use their cars daily, at least once.

All kinds of transport:

  • 906 (2017-19)

  • 826 (2020)

  • 838 (2021)

Mileage per year

Cycle:

  • 34 (2017-19)

  • 67 (2020)

  • 60 (2021)

Car (as a driver):

  • 3,641 (2017-19)

  • 2,845 (2020)

  • 2,939 (2021)

All kinds of transport:

  • 6,130 (2017-19)

  • 4,550 (2020)

  • 4,940 (2021)

Average trip length (miles)

Cycle:

  • 4.8 (2017-19)

  • 4.1 (2020)

  • 6.2 (2021)

Car (as a driver):

  • 8 (2017-19)

  • 7 (2020)

  • 7.2 (2021)

All kinds of transport:

  • 6.8 (2017-19)

  • 5.5 (2020)

  • 5.9 (2021)


How many people own or have access to a bicycle?

Aged 16 or over: 33% (2021/22)


Who cycles most by gender?

Aged 16 and up with use of a cycle

Cycled in the last four weeks (2021/22)

  • Females 25%

  • Males 41%


Which age group cycles the most?

People aged 70 and over tend to cycle less than other age groups. (Very) generally speaking, those in their thirties and forties seem to cycle most. For full breakdown by age group, please see the full report.


What is the purpose of most trips by bicycle?

This question was not asked in Northern Ireland.


What proportion of children cycle to school?

4-11 year-olds: 2% (2015-17, 2016-18, 2017-19)

12-18year-olds: 0% (2015-17, 2016-18, 2017-19)


Proportion of workers cycling to work

  • 1% (2017/19)

  • 4% (2020)

How many drivers cycle? How many cyclists drive?

Figures for 2021 from the Department for Transport (England), suggest that

  • Almost every adult cyclist who holds a driving licence also drives

  • More than a third of people with a driving licence also cycle No figures available for Northern Ireland.

The difference between the two (66%) could explain why so many drivers take so little care when passing cyclists: two thirds of drivers are unaware of the consequences of a close pass.


On what kinds of roads are people most likely to cycle?

There are no data available for Northern Ireland, only for Great Britain. I have shown the GB stats, hoping the NI stats are similar.


Most cycle mileage in Great Britain happens on minor roads, in urban areas especially.

Proportion of cycle mileage on different classes of road:

Minor roads, urban and rural (a+b below):

  • 83% (2015-19)

  • 85% minor roads, urban and rural (2020 & 2021)

a) Minor urban roads

  • 60% (2015-19)

  • 56% (2020 & 2021)

b) Minor rural roads

  • 23% (2015-19)

  • 30% (2020)

  • 29% (2021)

The remainder happens on ‘A’ roads (17% 2015-19; 15% in 2020 & 2021), mostly on urban ‘A’ roads (13% 2015-19; 11% in 2020 & 2021).


How does the UK compare to the rest of Europe when it comes to cycling as a mode of transport?

Out of 28 countries in Europe:

  • The UK comes 22nd for ‘cycling modal share’ (2%). The Netherlands comes top with 27% (European Cyclists' Federation figures).

  • The UK comes 25th for the proportion of people using a privately owned bike or scooter (incl. electric) as their mode of transport on a typical day (2%). Again, The Netherlands comes top at 41%. (European Commission, 2019).

For more stats on levels of cycling in different countries in Europe, plus some facts and figures specifically on The Netherlands, please see full report.


How safe is cycling?

Again, no figures are available for Northern Ireland, only for Great Britain. The Department for Infrastructure needs to be called out on its failure to monitor and/or report cyclist Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) statistics.


The main conclusion that can be drawn out of the GB data is that cycling is very safe, with one fatality happening every 10 million cycling journeys. The risk of being killed whilst cycling per billion miles cycled has been trending downwards since 2012, as has the risk of being seriously or slightly injured. This is based on incidents reported to the police only.

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